What is the Ockham Society?

The Ockham Society provides a forum in which graduate students in philosophy (particularly BPhil, MSt, and PRS students) may present their ideas to their peers at the University of Oxford. Our aim is to provide every Oxford graduate student with the opportunity to present their ideas in a friendly environment at least once during their time in Oxford. It is an ideal opportunity to gain feedback on your essays, and to gain first experiences in academic presenting. Small, experimental and unfinished papers are just as welcome as more advanced ones.

If you would like to present a paper to the society please send a title and abstract of 150 words maximum to Steven Diggin (steven.diggin@philosophy.ox.ac.uk). Oxford DPhil Philosophy students are highly encouraged to present at the DPhil seminar.

Ockham Society will take place online via MS Teams during Trinity 2021, Wednesdays, 12:00-13:30. Please email Alex Read (alexander.read@philosophy.ox.ac.uk) if you wish to attend.

Programme for Trinity 2021

Week 1
28 April
Chair: TBC
Kiran Lloyd (St Cross)
Sometimes you should take the lower expected value, riskier bet

Most of us are familiar with the decision rule which tells us to maximize expected utility. Very few are familiar with a generally weaker decision rule "don’t take stochastically dominated options". This is called the "Stochastic Dominance Theory of Rationality" (SDTR).

Tarsney (2020) has presented a compelling case for SDTR. I extend his results slightly (proving that sometimes we should take lower expectation riskier bets), and also show how SDTR vindicates common sense intuitions in the Two-Envelope Paradox, and Pascal’s Wager.

Week 2
5 May
Chair: TBC
Amy Thompson (St Anne's)
Dignity in the Market and Dignity in Society

CW: This paper includes discussion of pregnancy and the norms surrounding it.

One objection to market transactions in "contested commodities" – like this surrogacy example – is that such transactions undermine the dignity of market participants. Elizabeth Anderson (1993) makes sense of this in terms of the rights of transactors which, she argues, are denied to them when they are paid for particular services. In this paper, I examine Anderson’s claims and argue that they imprecisely target market transactions because (a) the same rights can be denied by non-market interactions and (b) there could be market transactions which did not deny participants these rights. I conclude that there are more similarities between Capitalism, Baby and The Fertility Commune than we have noticed and the same arguments can be deployed against both. Hence, an account of the dignity claim in terms of rights, such as Anderson’s, will not motivate restricting market transactions.

Week 3
12 May
Chair: TBC
Martin Schlombs (St Hilda's)
Is Speaker-Meaning without Common Ground Uptake Possible?

When speakers insinuate a content p they communicate it in such a way such that they retain deniability for p. How does deniability work? One plausible hypothesis is that while p is speaker-meant, p does not itself update the Stalnakerian common ground (Camp 2018, ). Absence of common ground uptake ensures deniability.

In this talk I would like to address a puzzle for this view. The puzzle is as follows: how can a speaker speaker-mean (that is, intend to have his audience believe) a particular content, while at the same time intending that this content does not make it to the common ground? Ensuring that a content p does not make it to the common ground requires acting as if one had the disposition to act as if one did not believe that p (Stalnaker 1974).

Week 4
19 May
Chair: TBC

12:00-12:30: Darcey Walker-Merison (Somerville)
Emotions in the Courtroom: An Aristotelian Perspective

A common traditional outlook assumes emotions ought to have a limited role in a legal context, since they interfere with A common traditional outlook assumes emotions ought to have a limited role in a legal context, since they interfere with common sense and hence our rational decision-making. However, Aristotle’s moral and rhetorical perspective ascribes far more value and complexity to emotions. As a result, a crucial aspect of his ethical theory involves controlling our responses to our emotions, since they can alter perception and therefore judgements about what we perceive. However, just as these changed judgements can sway us in the wrong direction, they can also provide immense value. My question is whether, on Aristotle’s view, an impassioned judge or juror is ever preferable to a dispassionate one. This discussion stems largely from Rapp’s 2018 paper, which argues we have no good reason to interpret Aristotle as a proponent of the impassioned judge.

12:30-13:00: Lara Scheibli (St. Edmund Hall)
Revoking Citizenship – Discriminatory, ‘Cruel and Unusual’ Form of Punishment?

This February, after a legal battle, the UK Supreme Court decided not to allow Shamima Begum's appeal against the UK revoking her citizenship. At age 15, Ms. Begum left the country to join ISIS. Her citizenship was withdrawn years later by the UK's Home Secretary, citing security concerns over her potential return to the UK. While joining a terrorist organisation is a terrible act and something rightly penalised under law, I argue here that, contrary to the assertions of the Home Secretary at the time, revoking Ms. Begum's citizenship can itself be considered a form of punishment, and that we should subject this decision to the same moral and legal scrutiny as we do other forms of punishment. Furthermore, I argue that revoking citizenship constitutes a 'cruel and unusual' form of punishment, which is both illegal under British law and antithetical to the philosophical principles underpinning a democratic political system.

13:00-13:30: Sophie Nagler (New College)
Do we mean the same? A use theory of meaning in n-sided sequent calculi.

When do two expressions share the same meaning? We usually settle this question using a truth-conditional theory of meaning. We ask whether the two expressions are true in the same circumstances. Alternatively, we can ask whether we use the two expressions in the same way. We, thus, adopt a use-conditional theory of meaning.

In logic, we use the connectives (expressions such as ‘and’, ‘if’, ‘not, ‘there is’) according to their proof rules. Hence, two logical connectives carry the same meaning iff they are governed by the same proof rules. This use-conditional approach to logical semantics is called proof-theoretic semantics.

In standard proof-theoretic semantics, meaning is determined by those parts of proof rules which are immediate to the introduction/elimination of the connectives, i.e., the active/principal formulae. However, recent work by Bogdan Dicher (2016, 2018) shows that there are proof rules which share active/principal formulae but induce different connective use. To solve this problem, he proposes the co-determination thesis, according to which some non-immediate (structural) components of the proof rules also (co-)determine meaning.

At this point, however, co-determination is a mere thesis. In this talk, I aim to expand the scope of this thesis to account for a range of philosophically interesting logics. By moving from 2-sided sequent calculi to general n-sided calculi, I provide the tools to settle open questions by truth and modality theorists, such as ‘Is Strong Kleene negation still (classical/intuitionistic) negation?’ This work is part of my wider (doctoral) project, in which I want to develop the co-determination thesis into a comprehensive theory of meaning for formal languages.

Week 5
26 May
Chair: TBC
Matt Hitchens (Hertford) and Niklas Welsch (Wolfson)


Week 6
2 June
Chair: TBC
Jinghi Yang (Lady Margaret Hall)
Plato on memory and anticipatory pleasure: reinterpreting the "mind-book simile" in the Philebus

In the intricate later Platonic dialogue Philebus, anticipatory pleasure is defined separately from bodily pleasure, which has been established as “restoration of the nature of a live organism” (32b1-4). It is claimed that in anticipating certain future pleasure, the soul is able to experience by itself a different kind of pleasure, which happens in the present, but does not at all involve the body. Later in the dialogue, a “mind-book simile” is raised to support the following three arguments: that anticipatory pleasure (1) belongs to the soul alone (32c4-6, 33c5-6); (2) depends entirely on memory (33c6); and (3) can be true or false (36c ff.). In this essay, I will offer a reinterpretation of the “mind-book simile” based on an integrated account of memory and perception of pleasure. I will provide a new reading of the text of39a1-3 and the analogy of the scribe and the painter featuring what I specify as memory and perception of pleasure, in which the work of the two artisans in the soul each serves as a distinct form of memory that preserves the perception of pleasure. Such memory can later be recollected to base the occurrence of anticipatory pleasure, and thus shed light on all the three characteristics of anticipatory pleasure listed above.

Week 7
9 June
Chair: TBC
Marta Bielinska (Oriel)
Leibniz and Kant on the nature of space. Forgotten context of "Von dem ersten Grunde des Unterschiedes der Gegenden im Raume"

The culminating point of "Von dem ersten Grunde des Unterschiedes der Gegenden im Raume" (1768) by Immanuel Kant is an argument for an absolute nature of space, based on the observation that the only hand existing in an otherwise empty space has to be either left or right. Although this paper generated a heated discussion among the contemporary philosophers (see: the collection of papers ed. by van Cleve and Frederick 1991), they usually focus only on the short passage containing the argument itself and ignore the dozen or so pages of introduction, where Kant provided a broader context of this reasoning. What is particularly interesting and yet unnoticed in the literature, is that in the beginning of his paper he made an explicit reference to Analysis Situs, which was one of the great projects of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz – and declared the intention of investigating it.

Therefore, instead of focusing on the famous argument, I will analyse the wider scope of issues described in the paper from 1768 in the context of Leibnizian philosophy. In particular, I will draw a link between two pairs of concepts that were essential for their conceptions of space. In particular, I will suggest that eponymous “regions” (ger. die Gegenden) that are essential in the Kantian narration, are supposed to correspond with Leibnizian “situations” (lat. Situs). Moreover, on the basis of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, I will argue that Kantian “incongruent counterparts” are in fact perfectly congruent according to Leibniz. Finally, on the basis of previous considerations, I will show that Kant’s argument already indirectly assumed the space being absolute and therefore, from the Leibnizian perspective, is circular.

Week 8
16 June
Chair: TBC
Kida Lin